Gro Harlem Brundtland

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The Honourable
Gro Harlem Brundtland
15th Prime Minister of Norway
In office
3 November 1990 – 25 October 1996
Monarch Olav V
Harald V
Preceded by Jan Syse
Succeeded by Thorbjørn Jagland
In office
9 May 1986 – 16 October 1989
Monarch Olav V
Preceded by Kåre Willoch
Succeeded by Jan Syse
In office
4 February 1981 – 14 October 1981
Monarch Olav V
Preceded by Odvar Nordli
Succeeded by Kåre Willoch
Director-General of the World Health Organization
In office
13 May 1998 – 21 July 2003
Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Preceded by Hiroshi Nakajima
Succeeded by Lee Jong-wook
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
12 September 1979 – 25 October 1996
Preceded by Reiulf Steen
Succeeded by Thorbjørn Jagland
Minister of the Environment
In office
1 July 1974 – 19 March 1979
Prime Minister Trygve Bratteli
Odvar Nordli
Preceded by Tor Halvorsen
Succeeded by Rolf Arthur Hansen
Member of the Norwegian Parliament
In office
7 September 1969 – 15 September 1997
Constituency Oslo
Personal details
Born Gro Harlem Brundtland
(1939-04-20) 20 April 1939 (age 77)
Bærum, Akershus, Norway
Nationality Norwegian
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Arne Olav Brundtland
Children Jørgen
  • Gudmund Harlem
  • Inga Margareta Elisabet Brynolf
Alma mater
Religion Church of Norway

Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norwegian: [ɡruː hɑːɭɛm brʉntlɑnː]  ( listen); born Gro Harlem, 20 April 1939) is a Norwegian politician, who served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986–89, and 1990–96) and as Director-General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003. She is also known for having chaired the Brundtland Commission which presented the Brundtland Report on sustainable development.

Educated as a physician, Brundtland joined the Labour Party and entered the government in 1974 as Minister of the Environment. From 1981 to 1992 she was leader of the Labour Party. After her surprise resignation as Prime Minister in 1996, she became an international leader in sustainable development and public health, and served as Director-General of the World Health Organization and as a UN Special Envoy on Climate Change from 2007.[1] She is also deputy chair of The Elders and a former Vice-President of the Socialist International. Brundtland received the 1994 Charlemagne Prize, and has received many other awards and recognitions.

Early life[edit]

Brundtland was born in Oslo in 1939, the daughter of physician and politician Gudmund Harlem.

In 1963, Brundtland graduated with a medical degree, a from the University of Oslo. She took her master's degree at Harvard University in 1965, as a Master of Public Health.

From 1966 to 1969, she worked as a physician at the Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet), and from 1969 she worked as a doctor in Oslo's public school health service.

Political career[edit]

She was Norwegian Minister for Environmental Affairs from 1974 to 1979.

Prime Minister of Norway[edit]

Brundtland became Norway's first female Prime Minister in 1981. She served as Prime Minister from February to October.

Brundtland at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in 1989

Brundtland became Norwegian Prime Minister for two further, and more durable, terms. The second ministry was from 9 May 1986 until 16 October 1989 and this cabinet became known worldwide for its high proportion of female ministers: nearly half, or eight of the total eighteen ministers, were female. The third ministry was from 3 November 1990 to 25 October 1996.

Brundtland became leader of the Labour Party in 1981 and held the office until resigning in 1992, during her third term as Prime Minister. In 1996, she resigned as Prime Minister and retired completely from Norwegian politics. Her successor as both Labour Party leader in 1992 and as Prime Minister in 1996 was Thorbjørn Jagland.

International career[edit]

In 1983, Brundtland was invited by then United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), widely referred to as the Brundtland Commission. She developed the broad political concept of sustainable development in the course of extensive public hearings, that were distinguished by their inclusiveness. The commission, which published its report, Our Common Future, in April 1987, provided the momentum for the 1992 Earth Summit/UNCED, which was headed by Maurice Strong, who had been a prominent member of the commission. The Brundtland Commission also provided momentum for Agenda 21.

During her third ministry, the Norwegian government in 1993 took the initiative to sponsor secret peace talks between the Government of Israel led by Yitzchak Rabin - like Brundtland, leader of a Labour Party - and the PLO led by Yasser Arafat. This culminated with the signing of the Oslo Accords. For several years afterwards Norway continued to have a high-profile involvement in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, though increasingly displaced by the United States from its role as the mediator.

After the end of her term as PM, Brundtland was then elected Director-General of the World Health Organization in May 1998. In this capacity, Brundtland adopted a far-reaching approach to public health, establishing a Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, chaired by Jeffrey Sachs, and addressing violence as a major public health issue. Brundtland spearheaded the movement, now worldwide, to achieve the abolition of cigarette smoking by education, persuasion, and increased taxation.[2] Under her leadership, the World Health Organization was one of the first major employers to make quitting smoking a condition of employment.

Brundtland was recognized in 2003 by Scientific American as their 'Policy Leader of the Year' for coordinating a rapid worldwide response to stem outbreaks of SARS. Brundtland was succeeded on 21 July 2003 by Jong-Wook Lee. In 1994, Brundtland was awarded the Charlemagne Prize of the city of Aachen.

In 2006 Brundtland was a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons who reviewed the work of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In May 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Brundtland, as well as Ricardo Lagos (the former president of Chile), and Han Seung-soo (the former foreign minister of South Korea), to serve as UN Special Envoys for Climate Change.[3]

Brundtland's hallmark political activities have been chronicled by her husband, Arne Olav Brundtland, in his two bestsellers, Married to Gro (ISBN 82-516-1647-6) and Still married to Gro (ISBN 82-05-30726-1).

In 2007, Bruntland was working for Pepsi as a consultant.[4]

Gro Harlem Brundtland is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

Brundtland is also a member of the Club of Madrid, an independent organization of former leaders of democratic states, which works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership.[5]

Brundtland serves as Deputy Chair of The Elders, a group of world leaders convened by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu in order to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.[6] Mandela announced the launch of the group on 18 July 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Brundtland has been active in The Elders’ work, participating in a broad range of the group’s initiatives. She has travelled with Elders delegations to Cyprus, the Korean Peninsula, Ethiopia, India and the Middle East. Brundtland has also been involved in The Elders’ initiative on child marriage, including the founding of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.[7]

Brundtland has attended the Bilderberg meetings.

Assassination attempt by Breivik[edit]

Brundtland narrowly escaped assassination by Anders Behring Breivik on 22 July 2011. She had been on the island of Utøya hours before the massacre there to give a speech to the AUF camp; Breivik stated that he originally intended Brundtland to be the main target of the attack (along with Eskil Pedersen and Jonas Gahr Støre), but he had been delayed while travelling from Oslo.[8][9] Breivik arrived on Utøya about two hours after Brundtland had left.

During his trial in 2012, Breivik revealed detailed assassination plans for Brundtland.[10] He told the court that he had planned to handcuff her and then record himself reading out a prepared text detailing her "crimes", before decapitating her on camera using a bayonet and uploading the footage to the internet. Breivik said that while Brundtland had been his main target, he had still planned to massacre everyone else on the island.[11]

Personal life[edit]

She married Arne Olav Brundtland on 9 December 1960. They had four children; one is now deceased. They own a house in the south of France.

Health issues[edit]

Brundtland was operated on for uterine cancer in 2002 at Oslo University Hospital, Ullevål.[12] In 2008 it became known that during 2007 she had received two treatments at Ullevål, paid for by Norwegian public expenditures. Since she had previously notified the Norwegian authorities that she had changed residence to France, she was no longer entitled to Norwegian social security benefits. Following media attention surrounding the matter, Brundtland decided to change residence once more, back to Norway, and she also announced that she would be paying for the treatments herself.[13] Brundtland has claimed to suffer from electrical sensitivity which causes headaches when someone uses a mobile phone near her.[14]


Brundtland has received many awards and honours, including


  1. ^ "UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Appoints Special Envoys on Climate Change". United Nations. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  2. ^ Claire Doole (21 October 1998). "WHO declares war on tobacco firms". BBC news. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press (10 May 2007). "U.N. Envoys Seek Input on Climate Change". Time. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Morten Ulekleiv; Gunn Kari Hegvik; Lars Kristian Tranøy (12 December 2007). "Pepsi-Gro slår tilbake: - Latterlig". Verdens Gang. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "Brundtland, Gro Harlem". Club de Madrid. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "Kofi Annan appointed Chair of The Elders". The Elders. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "Gro Harlem Brundtland". The Elders. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Norway shooting: killer 'confirms Gro Harlem Brundtland was main target'". The Telegraph. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Line Brustad (18 November 2011). "Breiviks hovedmål: Gro, Jonas og Eskil". Dagbladet (in Norwegian). Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Haroon Siddique; Helen Pidd (19 April 2012). "News blog: Anders Behring Breivik trial, day four - Thursday 19 April". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Breivik trial: Phone delay 'caused more deaths'". BBC news. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Alf Bjarne Johnsen (10 January 2008). "Betalte operasjon i 2002". Verdens Gang (in Norwegian). 
  13. ^ Alf Bjarne Johnsen (7 January 2008). "Gro flytter hjem". Verdens Gang (in Norwegian). Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Aud Dalsegg (9 March 2002). "Får hodesmerter av mobilstråling". Dagbladet (in Norwegian). Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "International Leader in Environmental Issues to Receive 2008 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, Law, Citizen Leadership, and Global Innovation". University of Virginia. 15 February 2008. 
  16. ^ 2014 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development
  17. ^ Tang Prize laureate calls for more sustainable development efforts
  18. ^ "Gro Harlem Brundtland utnevnt til æresmedlem av Norsk Kvinnesaksforening". Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  19. ^ "Gruppe 7: Medisinske fag" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  20. ^ The National German Sustainability Award

Further reading[edit]

  • Wilsford, David, ed. Political leaders of contemporary Western Europe: a biographical dictionary (Greenwood, 1995) pp 49-56.
  • Skard, Torild (2014). "Gro Harlem Brundtland". Women of Power: Half a Century of Female Presidents and Prime Ministers Worldwide. Bristol: Policy Press. ISBN 9781447315780. 
  • Brundtland, Gro Harlem (2002) "Madam Prime Minister: A Life in Power and Politics". New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 0-374-53002-5, primary source

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Tor Halvorsen
Minister of the Environment
Succeeded by
Rolf Arthur Hansen
Preceded by
Odvar Nordli
Prime Minister of Norway
Succeeded by
Kåre Willoch
Preceded by
Kåre Willoch
Prime Minister of Norway
Succeeded by
Jan Syse
Preceded by
Jan Syse
Prime Minister of Norway
Succeeded by
Thorbjørn Jagland
Party political offices
Preceded by
Reiulf Steen
Chairperson of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Thorbjørn Jagland
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Hiroshi Nakajima
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Succeeded by
Lee Jong-wook